What You Need to Know About Working with Difficult People

By Christie Walker
Before you can label someone else difficult you first have to understand your own behavior. How do we perceive a situation? How are we perceived in a situation? Maybe that customer you think is a pain in the gluteus maximus feels the same way about you. Maybe they think that your company is just too difficult to work with and one day will switch to a different company, one that understands their needs.

Different personality types will approach a problem from different perspectives. Usually people who see eye-to-eye on how to tackle a problem have the same basic personality characteristics. When you find yourself butting heads with the same person over and over again, most likely it’s a clash of personal styles.

So how do you determine which one of you needs to modify their style to get the job done? One rule of thumb is the person who is doing the selling needs to modify their style to fit the person who is doing the buying. So for optical lab/ECP relationship, the lab is in the position of selling a product so they should be responsible for modifying their style to meet the needs of the customer.

When it comes to employees, it takes all kinds of personalities to get the job done. As a manager, you need to be able to communicate with all personality types to get the best performance from each person.

In her workshop on “The Art of Dealing with Difficult People” Mary Schmidt outlined six strategies you can use when confronted with a person who is acting difficult.

Strategy 1—Listening: Tell yourself to shut up. People want to be heard. Getting people to talk is the best way to bond. Say, “Explain those details to me” or “May I take notes while you speak?”

Strategy 2—Avoiding: Doesn’t sound like much of a plan but sometimes you just can’t deal with a particular problem right away. Say, “I’m too busy right now. Let’s discuss this later (give a specific time.) This shows you are interested but moves the conversation to a time that is more convenient. Now that you are not distracted, you can give the person your full attention.

Strategy 3—Obliging: Invite them to offer a solution to the problem. Many times what the customer wants is very minor. Say, “What would you like to see happen here?” Strategy 4—Integrating: Making individuals part of the solution ensures their buy in. Say, “Let’s get all those involved and discuss the options.”

Strategy 5—Compromising: There isn’t always one answer that will make everyone completely happy. Say, “There’s no perfect answer here. What can we do that is tolerable to everyone?”

Strategy 6—Dominating: I call this the mommy answer, “Because I said so.” Sometimes as a manager you just have to pull rank and call the shots. Say, “Just do what I asked you to do, please.”

Whether the difficult person is an employee, co-worker, customer or vendor you can find ways to work with that person by understanding your own strengths and weaknesses and choosing a strategy that will get the results you want. Check out books like, “Managing Difficult People” reviewed in Think Outside the Box, for specific tips on how to spot, manage and work with 10 difficult personality types.


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May/June LabTalk 2017